Why GOP Voters Are Sticking With Donald Trump

Spend some time talking to voters passionate about Donald Trump. That they’re unapologetic in their support of the presumptive Republican nominee is no surprise. What’s striking is how earnest many are in their faith that the former president is a genuine “good guy,” compared to so many GOP officials who have offered tepid 2024 endorsements through gritted teeth.

“What is there not to like about him?” retiree Paula Johnson told The Dispatch in January, departing a Trump campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire, hosted by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. “He loves us; he loves our country. So, that’s why we’re supporting him.”

“He does everything that he says he’s going to do; like, the border, and all of that,” added Richard Hinson, 58, outside of a Nikki Haley campaign rally in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, where he lives and works for a power company. “He’s not a politician, you know? And I can relate more to that even though he’s a billionaire or whatever. And it just seems like he’s more for the small guy than one of these politicians.”

Their explanations for backing Trump over Haley and others in the GOP primary—and over President Joe Biden in November—present a stark contrast to the rationalizations offered by the slew of prominent elected Republicans who rushed to endorse the 45th president once it became clear he was headed for his third consecutive nomination.

“I am a lifelong Republican, and I will support Donald Trump as our party’s nominee for President,” Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. Bacon, running for reelection in an Omaha-area district that supported Biden over Trump in 2020, added: “Republican voters across our country have spoken, and it is clear we want to return to the secure borders, strong economy, energy independence, and SCOTUS nominations that President Trump delivered. It is time to defeat Joe Biden.”

“To beat Biden, Republicans need to unite around a single candidate, and it’s clear that President Trump is Republican voters’ choice,” added Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, also on X. Cornyn, running to replace outgoing Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as the Senate’s top Republican, added: “Four more years of failed domestic policies like the Biden Border Crisis and record-high inflation, and failed foreign policies that have emboldened our adversaries and made the world a more dangerous place, must be stopped.”

It makes zero political and professional sense for congressional Republicans to turn their backs on their party’s presidential nominee, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to support a Democratic incumbent. Stipulated. But the thruline in both the Bacon and Cornyn statements (and others) is: “Republican voters made us do it.” That explanation also is understandable: Trump over the past eight years has racked up his share of black marks, giving elected Republicans myriad excuses for keeping their distance.

Where to start.

Trump did not concede defeat to Biden, claiming erroneously that the 2020 election was stolen. Then, on January 6, 2021, Trump fomented a riot in the U.S. Capitol, with his grassroots supporters storming the building in a bid to overturn the election by halting certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory. More than two years after leaving office, Trump was indicted by the Justice Department for allegedly mishandling classified documents and obstructing the federal investigation into his refusal to transfer government material to the National Archives.

While that may be the most clear-cut criminal case against him, Trump is also under indictment in three additional criminal cases and was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation in two civil cases filed by E. Jean Carroll. He has at times said the Constitution should be suspended; suggested he wants to rule like a dictator (at least for  day); called political opponents vermin;” coopted racist tropes to declare illegal immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country;” and cozied up to authoritarians, including Friday when he hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at Mar-a-Lago, his winter residence and private social club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Politically, Trump’s leadership of the Republican Party has been shoddy.

On his watch, the GOP lost control of the House (2018); the White House (2020); and the Senate (losing Georgia’s seats in a pair of January 5, 2021, special election runoffs.) Democrats retained their Senate majority in the 2022 midterms—even gaining a seat in Pennsylvania—despite Biden’s low approval ratings, high inflation, and concerns about crime, as one flawed Trump-endorsed candidate after another suffered defeat amid independent voters’ exhaustion with the former president. Ditto the House, where Republicans barely managed to win a four-seat majority.

Meanwhile, on key issues many elected Republicans claim to care about, including fiscal responsibility, reducing the size and scope of government and American global leadership, Trump fell short. The debt and deficit skyrocketed during his presidency, growing from roughly $20 trillion to approximately $28 trillion; he opposes entitlement reform; and he regularly threatens American retreat from diplomatic and military alliances in Asia and Europe. Trump still does, saying recently he would “encourage” Russia to invade other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries if they do not increase defense spending.

As Trump said during an interview with CNBC Monday: “I’m not conservative. You know what I am? I’m a man of common sense.”

Grassroots Trump loyalists often are maligned with accusations that they back the former president despite these flaws—or even because of these flaws. To be sure, those voters are out there; no doubt. But during the several months of the GOP primary, especially this winter in the key early primary states, The Dispatch talked with voters who simply have a different view of the former president than the one that predominates in some Republican and media circles in Washington.

“He  just, he’s a good guy—good guy, good man and he’s got a great family,” Steven Steiner, a 63-year-old real estate agent in New Hampshire said  on January 23 at Trump’s election night celebration in the Granite State. “Four years ago today I had a chance to meet Ivanka Trump, and I told her my story. My story was simple: I lost my 19 year-old son to oxycontin and I wanted the White House to use the bully pulpit to go after [this issue.] That’s what Trump did—went out and used the bully pulpit.”

“He listened. He did a good job,” Steiner added. Steiner is a lifelong Republican, not a former Democrat attracted to the party by Trump and his heterodox views. We asked Steiner to address concerns many voters, right and the left, have about Trump.

For instance: The former president’s flirtation with governing like a dictator? He said he’s going to be a dictator for one day. He’s going to sign an [executive] order for the pipeline going again, and he’s going to close the border and start dealing with immigration.” And, the worry that he will ignore constitutional term limits and attempt to remain in office after his second four years is up? “That’s bulls–t.”

Is Trump at least partially responsible for a national debt after working hand-in-glove with a Democratic-run House, and a Republican-led Senate, to spend billions of dollars in extra federal cash to mitigate the fallout from the deadline coronavirus pandemic?

“I don’t think so,” said Douglas Benton, 70, retired from the information technology industry and who we met in late February while he was waving a giant “Trump 2024” flag outside of a Haley campaign rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “He couldn’t get anything through the Congress because they had the House and the Senate when he was president and they hold the purse strings.” (It’s unclear if Benton was blaming Democrats, Republicans or both, although Trump’s Republican allies controlled the House and Senate during Trump’s first two years in office.)

To Benton’s point, Trump is the Republican nominee, yet again, because many supporters see him as a victim—of circumstance, of the media, of the Democratic machine, and of a so-called GOP establishment powerful enough to thwart his presidency even though it was too weak to depose him as titular leader of the party since then, never mind block him from the 2024 nomination, which he clinched this week. This sympathy for Trump is fueled by two critical factors: They believe he did an exceedingly good job as president and do not think he did anything wrong, then or since.

Trump’s loyal grassroots following might be wrong about him, but they’re not being insincere or politically expedient; they believe the former president’s dubious claims.

They’re not holding their nose like Steve Deace, a well known Iowa conservative and BlazeTV host who previously endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Of his decision to back Trump, whom he argues is consumed by “delusional narcissism” and is “nearly impossible to like or admire,” Deace writes: “His self-destructive decisions during the COVID hysteria make supporting the former president almost impossible. But the stakes are too high to let the other party win.”

Contrast Deace’s comments with what a middle-aged married couple in Moncks Corner  told The Dispatch during an extended discussion about why they would rather give Trump another four years, versus nominating a Republican who, if he or she defeated Biden, could run for reelection and if successful deliver eight years of GOP rule in the White House.

“Like a lot of people, you kind of cringe when you hear some of the things he says,” said Michael Large, a 63-year-old Air Force veteran. “But man, after four years, and you just kind of watch everything that he did, that he said he was going to do; and never taking a paycheck while he was in office, donated the money every year, didn’t go into political office for monetary gain or self-gain, I believe he really does want to do something good for this country.”

“He lost money,” added Large’s wife, Leslie Large, who works for the local water department. She proceeded to raise a point oft-mentioned by many Trump supporters, that the former president “deserves” the second term they believe he was denied, or at the very least was unfairly disrupted, citing the federal investigation into allegations he colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign and their doubts that Biden’s victory in 2020 was on the up-and-up.

“He’s a proven candidate,” Michael Large interjected, “and I believe he deserves another four years to right the wrongs that have been done to him all this time, even out of office and when he was in office—all the knocks on his family, his business, his integrity.”

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